The Four Catholic Vocations

The Christian Vocation

As Christians, we are all called by God to believe in him. This was imprinted into our soul when God created us. With belief comes love for God. After love comes obedience in the form of worshipping God regularly through prayer, reducing or even eliminating sins from daily life, and expressing God’s love to others through service. All this can be simplified into one word: holiness. When we love God, we want to please him. Holiness is the way to please God. So all Christians have a universal call to holiness. This universal call is really a vocation. It’s that deep feeling of knowing ultimate happiness comes through God. This is the Christian vocation. All are called to this vocation.

In the Catholic Church, we have three more vocations: marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Compared to the universal Christian vocation, these can be considered sub-vocations. They are specialties within the Christian vocation or different ways of living out that universal Christian vocation.

Marriage

In marriage, a man or woman gives him- or herself completely to their spouse and children. Their goal is to lead their spouse and any children to God. They watch for sin in their spouse’s life, giving suggestions and strategies to improve. They educate their children in the faith, giving them the knowledge and skills to become and remain holy throughout their life. A big part of this involves being a good example, so the person has to be holy themselves to succeed in this vocation.

Marriage is the natural vocation. In addition to the love for him, God also plants in the human soul the desire to marry. Everyone is born with this desire. It is in our nature. Every human at some point feels attraction towards another, even priests. Sometimes life choices will lead a person in a different direction, but that desire remains. Thus, marriage is the easiest vocation to choose. On their own, most people will just fall into marriage eventually. For most people, it is only through a special calling from God that a person deliberately chooses not to marry. This call or vocation can be to the priesthood or consecrated life. Being special callings, they are not natural but supernatural vocations.

Priesthood

In the priesthood, the priest gives himself completely to the Church. He is obedient to his superiors, the bishops, cardinals, and Pope, following whatever orders they give. Many priests are faced with being reassigned to another parish. They can, of course, ask for a different assignment, but if their superior insists, they must comply. If they disagree with the overall Church in a particular matter of faith or morals, they can question it but eventually must acquiesce to the Church’s viewpoint. This is a sacrifice for the priest, requiring complete trust in God to lead him to happiness.

In most cases, priests serve in a parish. There can be other roles, including teaching at universities, traveling the world giving speeches, and serving religious communities, among many others. In all cases, the priest is responsible for leading their flock, whoever it is, to holiness and to happiness with God. This is no different than a married person who must lead their spouse and children to God except it is a much greater responsibility. Instead of being responsible to one family, a priest may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of families. For this reason priests have to be very holy, comfortable socializing, and extremely patient.

Consecrated Life

In consecrated life, a man or woman gives themselves completely to God, usually with the support of a religious community. There are even more forms of consecrated life than the priesthood from cloistered communities, where the members live away from the world many times under a specific “religious rule” in constant prayer and worship to God, to communities that work more in the world, serving the poor and needy or other good causes. Some individuals choose to be hermits, living much of life on their own with their gaze constantly on God. Consecrated virgins perhaps have the greatest freedom, living in the world, many times supporting themselves through their own work while serving others however they feel most called.

Whatever the case may be, these people make it their life’s work to seek heaven on earth. Of course, it won’t be fully realized until death, but they can expedite their path towards heaven through a greater focus on relationship with God on earth. In addition to serving their fellow brothers or sisters in their community and serving others through missions, their prayer offerings to God save countless souls in mysterious ways. Their life too is one of sacrifice.

Single Life?

All three sub-vocations involve a complete giving of self, a sacrifice for the good of others, but where does this leave single life? In God’s eyes, single life is a temporary state. In addition to the universal Christian vocation, God calls everyone to either marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life. However, God also allows for free will on earth. A person might choose to ignore God’s call. They might be so distracted with their interests, they never even hear the call. Not hearing the call is not always the individual’s fault.

Other people around the person might prevent them from following the call. They might be born with or develop impediments that prevent them from following God’s call. Physically, they could be disabled or develop illnesses that prevent them from following the call. For example, maybe a man is paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. According to our Catholic faith, he cannot marry. Maybe God calls a person to the priesthood, but they develop chronic anxiety and are unable to handle the high pressure of being a priest. Spiritually, a person might pray and pray for their calling, yet never feel a deep calling towards any vocation, leaving them wandering throughout their life. There could be even less unique cases, like an individual just never finding the right person to marry.

We don’t know why God allows these things to happen, but some people just never end up discovering or following their calling. Ideally, everyone would eventually choose one of the three sub-vocations, but some people just never get there because of their own actions, the actions of others, or any number of impediments.

As Catholics we have to understand the ideal and trust God to lead us there. For those who have been searching for their vocation without success or whose life already prevents them from choosing a sub-vocation, know that only the universal Christian vocation is required to live in heaven for all eternity with God. God knows if you are doing your best and have no fault. Trust that he knows this and be at peace.

I am in this situation myself. My health is sufficiently bad to prevent me from making the sacrifices necessary for any of the sub-vocations. For a number of years, I was a wanderer, finding some attractive things about all three sub-vocations but never feeling a deep calling towards one or another. In the end, it was for the best. I developed health problems which are not compatible with a sub-vocation. My bad health is an impediment I have learned to accept. Life on earth is not perfect. Sometimes we have to look towards heaven for our happiness, not at anything of this world.

To those who have never thought about a vocation, there is always time to start praying and discerning. Talk to friends, family, and priests for advice. Contact your vocation director. God knows what will make you most happy on earth and is calling you to that happiness. Of course, you may have impediments or other things preventing you from choosing a sub-vocation, but you won’t know if you’ve never thought about it deeply for an extended time.

May God be with you in all your decisions in life,
Jared

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Simple Living for Catholics Part 2: Examples

Last Friday, I wrote about living simply as a Catholic. The basic idea is to buy what you need and give away the rest. To generalize even more, Catholics should use their resources as needed for their basic needs. Once their needs are taken care of, all surplus resources should go towards those in need. If we don’t pay attention to what we do, it is easy to fall into laziness with giving. You might think you have nothing to give, but spend some time thinking about it and you will find ways to give.

To illustrate the ideal of simple living, imagine a family of four with two parents and two children. The father is a police officer, the mother works part-time as a tutor and part-time as a housewife, the son and daughter are both in school. Their household income is $90,000. Per year, they spend $26,000 on their mortgage, $24,000 on healthcare, $15,000 for school tuition, $10,000 for transportation, $4,000 on vacations, $2,000 for utilities, $2,000 on other miscellaneous necessities, $2,000 on entertainment, and $1,000 for charity. They save $2,000 a year for retirement and $2,000 a year for emergencies.

On a typical weekday, the father gets home at 7pm, eats dinner, and watches TV until his 9pm bedtime. The mother gets off work at 1pm, does some errands, takes the kids home from school, has dinner with the children at 5pm, does some chores, and watches TV with her husband until her 10pm bedtime. The son and daughter get home from school at 3pm, have dinner, do homework, and plays with their tech gadgets until their 10pm bedtime.

On a typical Saturday, the father goes golfing with his buddies during the day and plays poker with other friends at night. The mother spends most of the day taking the kids to their sports practices and competitions, using any free time to make meals and do chores. On a typical Sunday, the family goes to church in the morning. Then they go shopping for food, clothes, entertainment and other things. The rest of the day, the father watches football, the children play video games or socialize with friends online, and the mother makes meals and finishes the household chores.

Now we can look at how this family can simplify their life by giving, donating, and serving. The first step is giving excess material goods. This family is buying new things every Sunday. Over a whole year that’s a lot of clothing and entertainment. At most, they need outfits for maybe a month. Even then, clothes can be mixed and matched, so they don’t need a unique set of clothes for all 30 days. Over the year, they should be able to give many surplus clothing items to the needy. Entertainment items are even easier to give. Most times entertainment is consumed and then never touched again. Movies, books, video games, and more can be sold at garage sales or on Craigslist. The money can then be given to those in need.

The second step is donating money. This family is not donating any money to the church or poor. It looks like they have no money, but they really do if they take the time to think about their actual needs. If they buy used cars instead of new ones, they can save $2,000 a year on transportation. Vacations can greatly be cut back. Their current spending is enough for a big trip every year like going to Disneyland, but it’s not necessary to go on such big vacations. Switching to camping or a short road trip will save $2,000 a year for vacations. This family buys clothes and entertainment every Sunday. Some of that is needed but not all of it. They can easily cut that down by $1,000 for another big chunk of money.

Combined with their existing donations of $1,000 a year, their new total is $6,000 a year in donations. Ideally, they would be able to donate 10% of their income or $9,000 a year, but $6,000 is not bad at all. God would be very happy with this starting point. The next $3,000 might require more drastic sacrifices like moving to a cheaper house or even changing careers. God understands our limits.

The third is serving others. Within this family we can already see that the father is not spending enough time with his family. It’s true that he gets home late from work, but he just plants himself in front of the TV for 2 hours on weeknights. On Saturdays, he’s gone all day with his friends. On Sundays, he spends a little time with the family but then watches more TV. He should use some of that time for family activities like talking about their day and prayer. TV can be a family activity if the children are involved, but other than dinner, the children are in their rooms. They should be using some of that time to help their mother with chores and spend time with their parents. The children should do their best to get good grades. Sometimes this is a real sacrifice but it will please their parents and aid their future.

The mother is doing the heavy lifting in this family, juggling her job and the household chores all while taking care of the children. The father and children need to help her out more. The parents also need to be educating their children in the faith and in basic skills they will need when they grow up. A huge part of being a parent is educating their children, but these parents are completely ignoring this responsibility. School is not enough to teach children everything they need to know. The education in school and from parents works hand in hand to make good kids. Without reinforcement at home, the children will most likely struggle to adapt to adult life.

The family members are not doing as much as they can to serve their loved ones, but they also aren’t doing any service towards those outside the house. All their weekly activities are for themselves. There are a lot of needy people they could help. An easy form of service to start is prayer on behalf of those in need. They don’t even have to leave the house to do this. Another easy service opportunity is helping with coffee and donuts after church. Within the community they can help at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Another good one is participating in the pro-life prayer vigils. They are very common on Sundays outside abortion clinics.

Here is a quick list of the changes this family could make to practice simple living:

Giving Material Goods

  • Once a year give clothes that haven’t been worn in over a year.
  • Once a year sell or give away all the movies and books you have seen or read. Donate any money obtained this way to charity.
  • Whenever the son gets a new game, he has to sell or give away one of his older games. If he sells it, he has to use the money for a family gift such as getting ice cream or seeing a movie.

Donating Money

  • Buy used cars instead of new cars. Then donate the saved money to charity.
  • Switch to cheaper vacations and donate the extra money to charity.
  • Buy clothes only one Sunday a month and donate the savings to charity.
  • Spend no more than $100 per month on entertainment, giving the rest to charity.

Serving Others

  • For the father, play one of golf or poker, not both. Use the extra time to help out with chores, making meals, and going to your children’s sports practices.
  • For the parents, spend one hour per night on weeknights teaching and praying with your children.
  • For the children, help out the family with one chore each per day.
  • For the whole family, pray at least 15 minutes every night.
  • For the whole family, help out with coffee and donuts after church every Sunday.
  • For the whole family, help make a meal at a soup kitchen one Sunday a month.

Every Catholic family should take the time to analyze how they are giving, donating, and serving. It’s not easy making these sacrifices, but this is the Catholic way. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, take your analysis and write a list of all the changes that would be good to make similar to what I wrote above. Then once a year during Lent, make just one of those changes. Put it on the calendar, so you will remember. Focus on just that one change the whole year. You’ll probably keep forgetting at first or get out of the habit, but eventually the whole family will get used to it. The next year make another change.

If, for some reason, you can’t work on a new change during a year, feel free to postpone it. Just do your best to improve over time as a family. When you look back 10, 20, 30 years of family life, you should see a huge, positive difference between your family now and your family in the past. Remember every sacrifice for good will be rewarded in heaven. You will not regret God’s rewards for your good works.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Simple Living for Catholics Part 1: Definition and Practice

Simple living is a growing movement in America to get away from the busyness of modern life. For many people, simple living means getting closer to their roots in nature usually in the form of homesteading. They learn to live off the land, not on manufactured goods. Life can be much slower and peaceful this way. For Catholics, however, simple living usually means avoiding materialism. Since earthly life is just a temporary thing, it’s a waste to acquire wealth we don’t need when it’s just going to be taken away when we die. Despite this, material goods can easily become idols (CCC 2113). They can be a distraction and sometimes even lead to sin (CCC 2536-2537). Because material goods can be a danger to holiness, all Catholics are called to this form of simple living (temperance, CCC 2517).

The basic idea behind simple living as a Catholic is buy what you need; give the rest away. Deciding what is a need can be hard because everyone is in a different situation in life. For one person a new smartphone is a luxury, for another it is a business expense. For a small family, a 3 bedroom home is fine while a 5 bedroom home is needed for a bigger family. It’s not always easy to figure out which things are needs and which are wants. With ample prayer plus the advice of fellow Catholics and our priests, you can get a good idea what you and your family’s needs are. There is no need to rush in this. About a month of thinking, prayer, and talking with others is enough.

Once you know what your needs are you can take inventory of what you have. Most people have many extra belongings they don’t need. These can be donated or recycled. This is a good practice for the whole family to reinforce the giving spirit of the Catholic faith. Another part of taking inventory is calculating how much money is required for the family’s needs. That is how much money you need. The rest of the money can be donated for the needs of others. A third thing to consider is your time. Time is a resource just like material goods and money. Everyone needs a certain minimum amount of time to meet their duties to themselves and their family. Extra time should then be used serving others. Parents do a lot of this already while taking care of their children, but the children also need to learn this, so it’s best to use some free time to serve others as a family.

You probably noticed that these three things all require commitment. Over the years you will continue to buy things, some of which you won’t need, so you will always have belongings to donate over time. The monetary needs of the family will always be changing as new members enter the family and children grow up, so the amount of money you can donate will change over time. Your free time will also change. When you have several young children, you might only have time to serve them. Once they get older and more independent, you will have more time for service outside the home.

Living a simple life is not easy. If you and your family have been living the typical American life, you probably purchased many things you didn’t need over the years and maybe haven’t donated much money to others. Even when you know what you should be doing, it can be a struggle to do the right thing. The challenge is maintaining the spirit of giving (service, CCC 340, 1109). This is very much an ideal. There may be times you forget about it, but always get back on track later. It’s not just about helping others. This practice will make you and your family holier people.

The persons of the Holy Trinity represent perfect, complete sacrificial love (CCC 221, 1109). In a perfect world, we would fully emulate the Trinity, giving all our money and material goods to others for their needs. Others would do the same for us. Receiving what we need would just be a side effect of everyone’s giving. That is what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but at least we can see what that perfect world would be.

We know in heaven all our time will be spent giving, and we will love that completely. If we don’t love that completely, we need to grow more in holiness. That can either happen on earth or in purgatory. Since purgatory involves a lot of suffering, it is in our best interest to do as much growing as possible on earth (CCC 260, 1031). This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our needs or our family’s needs and expect others to take care of us. We aren’t in that perfect world, so we do need to cover our basic needs, but we should constantly strive to give whenever possible. Simple living is a huge part of that.

The practice of simple living allows for more giving with the same amount of resources. If you are just starting this practice, it may be hard. All change involves suffering, but that suffering will be far less than the required suffering in purgatory if you aren’t at that level when you die. With continued effort, simple living will just become part of life. You will be able to accept it and be content with it. You might not get anything in return for your giving on earth, but this is practice for heaven, where everyone will receive as much or more than they give. It is important to note that simple living isn’t required to go to heaven. Selfishness can definitely be a mortal sin, but in many cases, simple living is not a matter of sin. As above, whatever growth we don’t achieve on earth will happen in purgatory, but the holier we are on earth, the less suffering in purgatory. It just makes sense to strive for simple living.

With this you have the basics of simple living for Catholics. For a detailed illustration of implementing this in a typical family, see the second part.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

What Being Catholic Means to Me

I was born into a Catholic family, but I really just went through the motions when it came to practicing the faith. I learned about religion in school, and my regular family activities involved going to church and receiving the Sacraments. I liked to please everyone, so I did what my teachers and parents wanted. Entertainment was what drove me though. Early on, it was toys like action figures and Legos, later it was movies and video games. I didn’t really care about anything but having fun. This remained the same until I graduated from college.

By this time video games had become my favorite source of fun. There was an endless amount of new games coming out, and I wanted to play them all. All my plans and goals were centered around games. I had lists of what I had done in existing games and what I wanted to do in the future with those games. I also had lists of all the future games I wanted to get and the things I wanted to do in them. In short, all I cared about was short term pleasure. When I got bored with one game, I always had another lined up to keep me entertained. This kept me busy in the moment, but one day I just felt like I needed to be doing more.

Since the only other thing I did regularly besides video games was go to church, I decided to focus on the Catholic faith. I immediately saw many ways to improve myself. While working on improvement goals, I became aware of the power of prayer. I also discovered that there was an endless amount of studying I could do about the faith. In addition to the Bible, there were countless writings by the Popes, Church Fathers, Saints, and fellow lay Catholics I could read and think about.

Just like there was always another video game to play, there was always another way to improve myself, another prayer to say, or another Catholic work to study. Unlike video games, which was just about short term pleasure, these activities were about the long term. These things would contribute to my salvation or the salvation of others. Going to heaven is a big deal, so these activities were all important. That made me really happy. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I started focusing on the Catholic faith, but I found it. I was looking for purpose in my life.

Being Catholic means being part of something bigger than myself. This purpose drives all of my actions. I do have free time, where I just do what I want, but a lot of times I am thinking about how I can help myself or others get to heaven. I realize my actions can have a huge impact, mostly on myself but also on the few other people I am able to interact with during my life. I can’t be Jesus and help everyone, but I can help just a few people. All of my actions contribute to Jesus’ overall mission of saving souls.

Being Catholic means being part of a family. At the local level, I have my parish family that continually prays for all the needs in our community. At the national level, I have the U.S. clergy that are all working towards improving the sanctity of the country. At the global level, I have the Church in Rome directing the world towards holiness. Finally, there is the Communion of Saints at the spiritual level that encompasses everything. All of God’s children have a unique connection to each other, especially during prayer. I have all these people pulling for me to get to heaven. I am never alone. In addition, I always have a good friend to talk to in God.

Being Catholic means losing a lot of worries. I don’t have to wonder what I should be doing. I still have free will to decide how I will seek holiness for myself or others, but I always know right from wrong. I know what will lead me to holiness and what will hold me back. The faith allows me to ignore many useless short term things and focus on the things that have meaning in the long run. I don’t have to worry about death because I believe in eternal life. Just as a child goes through puberty to become mature, a person must go through death to go to heaven. I don’t have to worry too much about the future. I only have to make sure I am doing good in the present. The future will work itself out.

Being Catholic means understanding what true love is. It’s not about what I am getting out of the situation. It’s what I can do for others. I might not get anything in return during this life, but it will all be rewarded in heaven. God will give me something for my good actions. True love is sacrifice. That doesn’t mean I have to kill myself to help others, but I do need to be regularly expending energy for others in some way. It means always being able to love others even in the worst of times.

Being Catholic also means having high standards. The way of Jesus is very hard. I can’t just go through life doing whatever I want. I constantly work to avoid sin. Until I die I will never be able to truly rest. There are times when avoiding sin is easy, which can function as a time of rest, but avoiding sin is mostly a constant battle. In addition to avoiding sin, I also have to find opportunities to serve others. I can’t just keep to myself. I have to give back in some way. I push myself as much as I can with these things. Sometimes I work too hard on these things and have to force myself take breaks. This always reminds me of my human weakness, which I look forward to overcoming when I am purified in purgatory.

Despite how hard it is being Catholic, I absolutely love the faith. In good times and bad, it always keeps me going. I might not know exactly what God wants me to be doing, but I know what actions are good. I know the possible choices. Life is a lot easier without the pressure to make all these decisions alone. God and the Church are there helping me. Some days I’m more interested in the faith than others, but I never get truly bored. A lot of times I will be having a lot of fun with some entertainment, but it eventually ends. I become bored with it. That doesn’t happen with the faith. There is always something meaningful to do related to my Catholic faith.

No matter how secular the world becomes, I will never leave the faith. I love it too much. As long as I live, I will be doing my best to become a saint and help the people around me to do the same. Some of those efforts will be through this website, and some will be in other areas of my life, but I will always be participating in Jesus’ mission to save souls.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared